Monday, August 26, 2013

What Comes Next

First things first.

1.  About the MRI results....
Well, after I had filled out all my paper work and waited about forty-five minutes, the MRI tech read my paper work and noticed where I checked the box for expanders and said, "Just Kidding.  You can't go near the MRI machine as long as you have those in." Duh.  I should have known that.  So they contacted my oncologist and got him to write an order for a head CT.  So another forty-five minutes later I was able to get my head checked.  My OB/GYN called me a day or two later with the results.  All clear.  Negative.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  Sigh of relief.  Thanks God.

2.  About the genetic testing results....
They tested for the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes, for Lynch Syndrome and for some other things that have letter and number conversations that I didn't take time to remember.  But those test came back and they were all negative.  That leaves us back where we started, with absolutely no idea where this cancer came from.  But I don't really care.  I don't need to know.  God's still got this.  He is still good.  Praise the Lord.  My sisters and Ella will still need to be screened earlier/more often than they would if I didn't have breast cancer.  But I don't need to be hyper-vigilant about getting a colonoscopy and worry about needing a hysterectomy in three years. 

This morning I met my Radiation Oncologist, Dr McBride.  He went over the whole Radiation process and what to expect, what to do, what not to do and then filled us in on the potential risk factors.  There aren't that many, and the likelihood that I get them is low, but I was already trying to retain my composure after the nurse had told me about the side effects.  I had heard that it can feel like a sun burn that won't go away and that's about it for side effects.  That is a side effect, but she also said that compounding fatigue is also one.  NO!!  I thought I was done with fatigue!  As the week wears on from Monday to Friday the fatigue will increase.  It will also get worse the longer I am receiving radiation.  This makes sense as the body is working overtime to rebuild healthy cells.  But I really thought I was done with being tired! The other risk factors include decreased lung function in the left lobe, potential cardiac issues since the heart is on the left side of the body, increased chance of rib fracture and more. I was scheduled for a mapping simulator CT scan for later this week.  This will give Dr. McBride and the team of physicists the information they need to prepare the treatment plan for me.  This whole process is nothing like I imagined.  There's so much involved! I left there feeling a little depressed.

After that appointment at St. Johns we drove to Woodwinds for the first of my every three week Herceptin treatment.  I met with Mark and we talked about where things were and what would be coming in the future.  He answered a lot of questions I had and some questions that some of you have asked that I didn't have answers to.  A phrase kept popping up that I couldn't help but smile at: "curable breast cancer."  My stage 3b breast cancer, even though it was quite large, even though there were many lymph nodes involved is considered curable.  The tumor was removed.  The chemo has done it's thing and now the radiation will make sure that no cancer cells survive.  He gave me a prescription for Tamoxifen.  I'll be taking this hormone therapy for 5-10 years.  My cancer is estrogen responsive and the Tamoxifen will block cancer cell growth that is typically enhanced by estrogen.  This medication has it's own side effects and risk factors!  But Mark was able to dispel some of the anxiety I had about the side effects of Radiation, so it was turning into a better day.  It turned into a really good day when we saw that my hemoglobin had gone almost a gram.  That would be the equivalent of getting 1 unit of blood.  Still a ways to go until that is normal, but I'll take it!  I also go in for another MUGA scan this week to make sure my heart is still strong.  This is a huge answer to prayer.  I've had two MUGA scans.  One before chemo started and one when I finished Adriamycin.  My ejection fraction was at 65% for both of them.  That's really unusual.  From the beginning of treatment to the end of the Adriamycin, it is common for people to lose 10%.  Keep praying!  Herceptin is hard on the heart too.

I headed to the infusion center and got to see my nurse friends again.  Several of them commented again on how moved they were by my window friends the week before.  Those that weren't there definitely heard about it!  They said it was one of the coolest things they'd seen happen there.  It went really quick and I was done. 

We still have a lot of logistical things to work out with Radiation, but I'm hoping these next six weeks fly by!!

Happy Last Day of Side-Effect Chemo to Me!

If you were in on the Last Day of Side-Effect Chemo festivities...thank you!  It was a day that I will not soon forget.  For those of you that weren't in on the celebration, let me fill you in. 

It all started with my mom.  I'm not sure of those details, but I'm sure she sent an e-mail and it all snowballed from there. 
Last Monday, August 19th, was week 12 of 12 for Taxol and Herceptin  weekly chemotherapy.  I love parties, I love celebrating big and small events.  So Lindsay, my high school friend/chemo buddy for the day, and I gathered some treats to take in to the staff as a thank you for taking such good care of me for the last two phases of chemo.  Lindsay spoiled me with treats too! 

So we are sitting in "the office" chemo cubicle talking away, reminiscing about the Spring Break trip we took to Hawaii in high school (she even brought pictures!!!), dreaming of our next trips there and solving the world's problems when we notice three super heroes and their mom outside the window!  It was so out of the blue that it took me a little bit to register the fact that I knew the mom of these masked kids!  I did what I usually do in situations like that...take pictures!  They held up their signs for me, played some music (I couldn't hear the words, but I'm sure it was a fabulous song!) and then vanished. All the laughing drew nurses and volunteers to come and see what was going on.  The cuteness level could not be matched!!  Thank you, Thornton Family!!

Shortly after that my dad stopped in with a balloon to say hi and let me know that he was celebrating the Last Day of Side-Effect Chemo with me and then headed out.  He also handed me a stack of notes from many of you. Short and sweet. But Lindsay and I were deep in our conversation about my newest adventure so I didn't think much about it.  Not long after that Lindsay was looking out the window and starting laughing.  More people (dressed in pink this time) came bearing signs and balloons.  More laughing and waving.  They released the balloons and we watched them float away.  I learned later that there were 16 balloons.  One for each side-effect chemo treatment I'd had.  Not long after this Kent and Cindy O'Grady stopped by to wave through the window.  They were too quick and I didn't get a picture. 

The staff at the Cancer Care Center were so surprised and really moved by all the window visitors.  It was probably my favorite chemo treatment.  If people are allowed to have favorite chemo treatments.  The celebration ended with dinner out.  I was blown away by the people that came out to wave and those that sent e-mails and texts and Facebook messages to celebrate this little milestone with me!  I am so grateful that I don't have to do this alone!  Thanks again for your loving support!

Monday, August 5, 2013

A Few Good Laughs

I had two doctors appointments today. And two doctors laughed at me.  It was a good day!  The first appointment was with my plastic surgeon, Dr. Kadkhodayan. Actually it was with her nurse, but we rode the elevator up to her office together and since she had finished a procedure early, she was the one to see me and fill my expanders.  That is excellent customer service in my opinion.  I knew I was there to see her nurse and didn't expect her, but she wanted to see and connect with me, so she did the fills herself. She laughed at me when I told her I had been trying to do push ups.  My broken stitches, rotated and leaking expander started making sense to her!  She calls me her star patient and always mentions how well I'm handling everything.  She said that most of the time, her patients that have a strong support system tend to handle everything better.  Her comment was, "you must have a huge support system."  I all are phenomenal!  I was excited that I got to brag on all the friends, family, strangers (who are basically friends that I just haven't met yet) and others around the world that are praying for me or supporting me in one way or another.  It's so encouraging, especially at this point in my treatment when I am so tired of chemo every week.  Tired of side effects. Tired of not being my full self.  Just plain tired of being tired!  You guys rock!

I wanted to share this with you all. This picture gets me every time.  This was taken on my dad's latest trip to Africa.  He was updating the men on his family and this room full of men in Africa stopped their meeting to pray boldly for me. See the guy up front? Goosebumps.  And this happened in more than one country.  There are people praying in Slovenia and the Philippines, too.  Just crazy.  I've got an international support team!


Then it was my oncologist,  Dr. Shanks', turn to laugh at me when he asked if I had been experiencing any shortness of breath.  I was honest and told him only when I tried running.  That's when he laughed and said, "You have a hemoglobin of 9 and you're trying to run?! Of course you're going to be short of breath!"  It made sense when he said it.  Not so much when I took off to go on a short run and after a short block later (okay fine, half a short block later) I was wishing that Rick was at home and could come get me!  I didn't think that through.  (For the record, getting my dance on with Ella, Britt Nicole and Jamie Grace also causes shortness of breath!) I was also honest with him and told him all the details about the headaches I've been having for the last couple of weeks.  That honesty is getting me a brain MRI tomorrow morning!  Neither of us think anything will show up, just covering all the basis.  Prayers appreciated if you read head has never been in a Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine before.  Here's praying I don't get all claustrophobic in there!

Sarah was my chemo buddy today.  She provided some great conversation. Iron sharpens iron.  Reminders that birds don't store up anything.  And we are much more valuable. The birds that congregate at the feeders right outside my chemo reminder are always such a great reminder of this! One day at a time.  

                             Top picture is Anissa from last week and the bottom is Sarah.

Chemo is always bittersweet.  I don't like getting a needle in the chest, having my blood drawn, and getting pumped full of poison, but I love the time I get to spend one and one with my friends and family.  I feel so incredibly loved that people actually want to spend all that time with me.  Ahh...such warm and fuzzy thoughts! I got a text from my cousin way out in Tennessee, she knew exactly what I was doing at that time! I got several cards this week as well.  I wonder if they might have gotten a Holy Spirit hint that I might be feeling a little discouraged?!  Those were day, no, week brighteners.  And at our outdoor church service on Sunday, my pastor asked for a new pink bracelet.  Even with his weak and injured arms was able to rip it off with along with another bracelet. I love that my pastor is still praying for me.  We get what need just when we need it.  One day at a time.

Still no word on the results for the genetic testing yet.  My dad also went in for testing since the occurrence of cancer is so high on his side of the family.  Depending on what his results are (and mine), Jamie and Ali (and Ella eventually) will be able to figure out if they need to be tested.  The whole thing is actually quite interesting.  I pretend to know what they're talking about by recalling Mrs. Rich's teaching on the Punnett square in high school biology.  AA, Aa,aa etc...

The next step for me will be finishing these last two weeks of TH chemo.  Chemo will then switch to every three weeks with just Herceptin for another 40 weeks or so.  Sometime in September I will be starting radiation.  Five days a week for six weeks.  5 days a week for 6 weeks. 5 x per week for 6 weeks. No matter how you type it, it spells out HUGE INCONVENIENCE! I'm still not sure how that will work with my work schedule, Ella being in school, my new position at church and my social calendar in general!  Did I mention that I will have to have radiation on my birthday?!  Oops, I heard it now.  Sorry you had to hear that.  I'm so grateful that I am able to receive radiation treatment and celebrate another birthday! Have you seen that Pinterest post of the woman who did 30 something Random Acts of Kindness on her 30 something birthday? How fun would that be?!  This past week alone I've heard of two people receiving a cancer diagnosis and two people that have lost their fight.  For me, cancer is just a constant reminder that we aren't the ones that decide when we're done here on earth.  I just pray that what I've done while I was here was done in love to point others to God, the one who has each of our days numbered.  What else is there?

Time to go and find a way to override the steroid insomnia and get some sleep! That probably includes reading.  I've read some really good books in the last month! Have any of you read anything good lately?!